The five players who missed the first game included tight end Jody Fortson, wide receiver cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, Kadarius Toney and defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton. Running back Isiah Pacheco, who has practiced in a limited capacity in non-contact drills, was also unavailable against the Saints.
When can fans realistically expect each of these players to return to the field?
TE Jody Fortson
Fortson is currently mending a subluxed (dislocated) shoulder which he suffered on July 28. This occurs when the humerus slips out of the glenoid fossa. The shoulder is a ball-and-socket joint. A dislocated shoulder is immediately treated by a member of the athletic training staff relocating the injured joint.
This is not Fortson’s first dislocation — as he suffered a dislocated elbow during the 2022 season. He ultimately missed over a month with this injury, not returning to the field until the AFC Championship game. Dislocated shoulders are much more common than a dislocated elbow, based on the anatomy of the joint—shoulders offer more freedom of movement and thus have less stability.
Fortson will likely be held out of the preseason but could conceivably be ready to return to the Chiefs for the regular season. Managing a dislocated shoulder entails stabilizing and strengthening the joint, while also managing pain. Fortson’s practice status in the upcoming weeks will shed more light on his Week 1 availability.
RB Isiah Pacheco
Pacheco has been participating in training camp donning the yellow jersey afforded to quarterbacks — making him a non-contact participant. He has been rehabbing from two offseason surgeries: a broken hand and a torn labrum in his shoulder.
All reports coming from training camp at Missouri Western State University in St. Joseph have been positive concerning Pacheco. General manager Brett Veach hinted strongly that Pacheco would be ready Week 1.
Recovery from a labrum repair is generally six months. The indications are that Pacheco should be cleared for a return to full contact on August 20. The Chiefs will likely test him at practice but hold him out of any preseason action even after being cleared. Barring any setbacks, Pacheco should be at full strength and ready for kickoff on September 7.
WR Kadarius Toney
Toney’s injury and timeline for return have sparked the most debate and speculation among fans. Toney partially tore his meniscus on the first day of training camp on July 23 and subsequently underwent surgery that week.
Like with Pacheco, Veach expressed optimism for Toney’s availability to return for the regular-season opener, although his comments to the media were vague. With the first game being six weeks after surgery, it is conceivably possible for him to be ready to return.
Given Toney’s injury history and the nature of meniscus injuries in general, it is doubtful he will be available in Week 1. The Chiefs will likely — and should be — very conservative in regard to Toney’s return. They will want him available for as much of the regular season as possible, as he is a large part of the offensive attack for 2023.
As of this writing, Toney has not returned to practice since undergoing surgery and the Chiefs will want to see him test the knee in practice prior to returning to any game action. If Toney does not return to practice in at least a limited capacity in the next two weeks, then there is more doubt he can be relied upon in Week 1. There is even a possibility he could be placed on injured reserve to start the season, allowing the Chiefs more flexibility in their roster construction to open the season as well as giving Toney additional time to rehab the injured knee.
CB L’Jarius Sneed
Sneed had swelling in his knee on July 31 and has not practiced since. Sneed’s injury is being reported as inflammation. Being a veteran and assured of a starting role on the defense, Sneed is likely being held out as a precautionary measure and for added rest. While vague, inflammation does not equal an underlying concern for structural damage or injury.
Currently, there should be no concerns about Sneed’s availability for the regular season.
DT Turk Wharton
Wharton began training camp on the Active/PUP (physically unable to perform) list at the start of camp after undergoing a repair for a torn ACL which ended his 2022 season. He was elevated to the active roster on August 2, returning to practice.
Seemingly, Wharton is on track with his rehab, with his ability to return to contact 10 months after injury. There shouldn’t be a significant concern with Wharton missing practice and being held out of the first preseason game. As long as he doesn’t miss extended practice time over the upcoming weeks, he should be able to return as a contributor for the Chiefs’ defensive line in the regular season, but he could be held out of the preseason.
The bottom line
One of the main goals of the preseason is to enter the regular season with optimal health. Each of these players entered training camp in the Chiefs’ plans to have contributing roles in the 2023 regular season. For that reason, expect the Chiefs’ medical and athletic training staff to manage these injuries conservatively — limiting but most likely completely excluding each player from preseason competition.
The Chiefs will almost certainly use their regular season schedule to their advantage in Week 1. With their first game being on Thursday Night Football, this will provide 10 days of rest before their next game. If there is doubt on the status of any player entering Week 1, they could be held out for an additional 10 days' rest.